Get Into Gear Part 8 – Food for Thought (Rogaining Nutrition)

by Tristan White

The dietary choices for many rogainers during events are as obscure as the sport itself. With very few other sporting events involving up to 24 hours of activity, the traditional energy gels and chews, and protein shakes are not enough to get by, and rogaining tragics are forced to find other items to supplement these.       

Obviously, all rogainers have different dietary requirements, taste preferences and budgets, and furthermore their food selection will be to some extent dictated by their level of competitiveness, so there is no magic formula for what one should eat in a 24-hr rogaine. I have nonetheless taken the chance to share my own habits and find out what a few other rogaine regulars – Ronnie Taib, Joel Mackay, Andrew Smith – have done, to provide a bit of a sampling plate for those looking for ideas.

  1. Tristan White

I am coeliac which explains the absence of some of the typical foods that many would otherwise eat. This gluten-free list could however provide some ideas for others with similar constraints.

  • 3-4 muesli bars with a mix of nuts and seeds
  • 3-4 dried fruit bars or other dried fruit such as cranberries, pineapple or apricots
  • 2-3 apples or mandarins depending on what’s in season
  • Bag of tamari-coated almonds. Nuts give long-lasting energy and the salt adds flavour
  • Packet of rice-crackers and circle of Brie cheese. As unconventional as it sounds, it was an amazing treat to dip into at midnight and is a much more attractive alternative to a gluten-free sandwich that’s been sitting in the bag for 12 hours
  • Tin of Dolmades (rice wrapped in vine leaves), a wonderful mix of salt and carbs
  • Bag of dark chocolate (usually saved for the last few hours)
  • Bag of lollies
  • 2-3 No-Doz tablets, usually one for midnight and another for sunrise
  • 2-3 fruit squeezes
  • A few gels for emergencies but rarely feel like eating them.

I generally start with the slower acting food such as muesli bars and nuts and hit the cheese and crackers as the night progresses, leaving the sweetest stuff till the end. My stomach can be a beast … at times I’m ravenous and afraid I’ve not taken enough, at other times I can feel bloated or nauseous from having too much. Couple that with unpredictable cravings for all different things. I really have to play it by ear (by stomach?) during the event.

2. Ronnie Taib (shown below, right, with teammate David Williams after winning the 2019 NSW Champs for the second consecutive year)

I’m generally a very big eater despite my small build, and usually lug quite a bit of food. For a 24-hour event I’d include:-

  • Five sandwiches in white ciabatta-type bread with butter, ham or salami, tomato or lettuce and pickles.
  • Two “poor man” sushi rolls: white rice mixed up with tuna in olive oil, a few drops of sesame oil, salt and pepper. I eat this out of a Ziplock bag which looks a bit like a sushi when compressed. The oil is to help the rice down at any time of day or night, especially when I run out of saliva to eat a sandwich.
  • Four muesli bars.
  • “Comfort food”: Shapes and snakes. One extra white sandwich with Nutella.

I am often unable to swallow anything when fatigue hits, so need food that is energetic yet bland enough to go down. Sandwiches are nice and tasty during the day, but I like a bit of variety for the night so go for what feels the least terrible. You’ll notice above I choose white bread and rice although they don’t fill me much, because too much fibre can make my guts unhappy when walking. I’ve been changing my rogaining diet over time because my brain seems to associate the disgust caused by fatigue with the food of the time, and well remembers it for subsequent events.

I tried Powerade in my water bladder once, at the 2015 Aus champs in Capertee, and that was a disaster. It felt too sweet and left me craving for water on that very hot day. After a few hours I started hallucinating … hearing water trickling in that dry land. Never again. Plain water, thanks.

And I usually bring 2 gels “in case” and may use them if the terrain is consistently hilly as they release some of the knee pain I get. I carry paracetamol, ibuprofen and antihistamine among other stuff in my first aid kit but, luckily, I haven’t had to use any for years. Pain is a good pacer…

3. Joel Mackay

[L-R] Glenn Horrocks, Joel Mackay & Andrew Black, open winners of 47th Paddy Pallin rogaine.
  • 3 CLIF bars
  • 3 other bars
  • 2 helpings of trail mix (helping roughly equivalent to a bar)
  • 2 helpings of dried fruit (apple, mango, pineapple, peach)
  • 1 muffin
  • 3 filled rolls (eg tuna or cheese + tomato)
  • 2 squares of my special home-made protein slice (oats, dates, cocoa, nuts)
  • 2-3 No-Doz
  • 1 apple, eaten just before sunset
  • Plain water (no electrolyte or sports drink)

I aim to eat something every 1-1½ hours, even if it’s just half of a bar, and carry less if we plan to pass through a café. I specifically carry a mixture of sweet and savoury, and all things I’ve had many times before. The apple just gives me something refreshing part way though the event.

No electrolytes because there is no evidence that I’m aware of that you need salts in endurance events.

4. Andrew “Smiffy” Smith

Andrew with regular teammate Toni Bachvarova look to be well-energised for the start of the NSW Champs (2018 at Abercrombie NP)

Currently our menu consists of a selection of:

  • bananas and Lindor dark chocolate wrapped in crepes
  • chicken lemon risotto wrapped in crepes
  • spaghetti bolognese wrapped in crepes
  • slices of pizza, preferably with pineapple in the topping
  • small roast potatoes flavoured with feta
  • mustard or just salt
  • dark chocolate wheatmeal biscuits
  • Anzac biscuits
  • Mixed nuts
  • Weetbix Go breakfast biscuits (no longer available)
  • chocolate
  • gels with and without caffeine

Food is my biggest challenge on a 24 hour rogaine. I always have trouble ingesting the energy I need to keep up the pace. It gets harder the higher the intensity, the warmer the temperature, and the higher the humidity. I’d love to be the type of person who can buy a bag of cheese and bacon rolls on the way and survive 24 hours eating them, it would be so much easier.

I add a weak mixture of Staminade lemon-lime (mainly for taste) and Endura Rehydration Low Carb Fuel coconut (for the electrolytes) to my water. I sweat a lot and need to replace the electrolytes to prevent cramping … or keep cramping to a manageable level anyway. I tried Endura Rehydration Performance Fuel a few times but it really blocks up my stomach and prevents food from going in. We also use ibuprofen when needed (I always need it!)

Our food changes over time as I get sick of eating the same thing. It’s a constant challenge finding new things I can stomach. Weight is not really a consideration – it’s much more important to be able to get it down.


Tristan W: How do you you manage how you eat so you don’t suffer adverse effects of eating too much or too little?

Ronnie T: Not very well. I always promise myself to eat a sandwich or sushi at least every four hours, and a muesli bar in between if needed, but I often fail to eat anything for most of the night and crumble, flat on energy as day breaks on Sunday.

Joel M: Just try to be reasonably regular.

Andrew S: I try to eat a small amount every hour. If I put too much in my stomach it will churn on it for hours. I used to try and eat a larger amount every two hours but that was getting too much.

TW: Do you have particular foods you eat the night before or morning of a rogaine?

RT: Nope. Anything goes, I don’t see myself at that athletic level. I may simply look for food that will suit the pre-event camping night, e.g., a warming dish if the night promises to be cold.

JM: No – just have breakfast (muesli-yogurt-fruit), morning tea (muffin or the like) and lunch (two filled rolls).

AS: I try to eat a good amount of high carbohydrate food the day before the event. On the morning of the event I try to get my stomach into race mode by eating smaller amounts at regular intervals. Many times I’ve eaten too much before the start and have to manage my stomach (and reduce intensity) for the first 4 to 6 hours.

TW: Is there any food that you specifically avoid eating either before or during a rogaine?

RT: I personally avoid grains and wholemeal now, although it may sound counter-intuitive. Too much sugar also makes me crave for teeth brushing.

JM: There are no good data that anti-inflammatories have a benefit in these events, so I don’t take them.

AS: My stomach doesn’t like fatty foods like sausage or cheese. I also don’t like muesli bars – can’t get them down.

TW: How do you pack your food in your bags so you can access what you need when you need it?

RT: I wrap my sambos in thin freezer bags, chuck all my food in a larger plastic bag in the main section of my bag. I carry a muesli bar in strap pocket and refill when I access the big items. Since we only walk, it’s always easy enough to access stuff.

I try to minimise my plastic use, but I admit packaged bars and freezer bags are the best weight trade off I’ve found. I return all my muesli wrappers and used bags to my local Coles for RedCycle-ing.

JM: Most food in outside pockets. Second helpings are inside in a separate food bag.

AS: We wrap all our food so that it is easy to access. Usually in old bread bags in outside pockets or the top of the pack. Pizza slices are paired up so the toppings are on the inside like a sandwich. We wrap the crepes individually in cling wrap – we are still looking for a more environmental solution for this.

TW: What are the differences between what you carry in 24-hr versus shorter duration events?

RT:  I cut quantity down for a shorter event, that’s all. But that’s also because I’m not inclined to run in shorter events.

JM: Anything shorter than 24-hr, I won’t have rolls or apple. In a 3-6hr event with lots of running in warm weather, I would have a gel or two because they’re easy to get down. In such conditions, I wouldn’t have nuts or other dry things. Sometimes I might add sports drink powder for the same reason if it’s very hot, not for the electrolyte but for the easily accessed sugar.

AS: We pretty much eat the same types of food for rogaines 6 hours and longer. For 3 hour rogaines we just use gels.

TW: If there is an All Night Cafe on course, how much effort do you make to stop at it during the night, or return to the HH for food where possible, and how much assistance is it to stop?

RT: I like the idea to stop at the ANC mostly to acknowledge and thank the volunteers there. However, we don’t plan around them as we had cases where we could not find anything our tummy would like. That said, I’ll usually grab a choc muffin if available. I should also talk about the best ANC “dish”. Not being a native-born Aussie, it turns out I had my first toastie ever on the Wombeyan Wamble rogaine, after hours in battering rain and storm. It is probably the best thing I ever had in my life!

JM: Always stop if I can. It’ll reduce by one or two ‘units’ the amount of food I carry.

AS: We always hope the HH and the ANC are not far from our course. Hot food goes down so much easier! I always feel much better after a feed (as long as I don’t eat too much). And cheese toasties are the best (my stomach is fine with cheese if it’s in a cheese toastie). If it is less than 1km out of our way we will make the detour – it’s definitely worth it.


Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences. I hope it prompts our members to share their good and bad times with rogaining food.